Sameep Padora is an architect who graduated from the Academy of Architecture in Mumbai. He continued his education with the SCI-Arc program in Los Angeles, and he got his master’s degree at Harvard University, Graduate School of Design in 2005. Then he moved to his homeland, India, and founded a design studio in Mumbai named sP+a (Sameep Padora and Associates). He is also the director of the sPare, a research project exploring urbanization and architecture in India.
As a consequence of the sPare’s research, a book called “In the Name of Housing” was published by the analysis and documents obtained. The speech that he made in 2018, which I will be reviewing today, is on TED’s website with the title of Mumbai’s Architecture is Killing Us. The speech was mainly about his concerns about Mumbai’s housing system and proposals that will add a perspective towards affordable housing projects.
Bombay Plague Epidemic
In the 1890s British colonial government wanted to make Bombay, now Mumbai, the first city of India. Bombay was an economically important city with its bustling trading port. Therefore, the city entered a period of rapid industrialization, and the working-class migrated to the city. There were no regulations for urban planning and building in that era; therefore, landlords made many concessions while building houses to accommodate the growing population.
The houses’ main problems were the lack of sunlight, lack of ventilation systems, and insufficient infrastructure. However, the government realized that they needed to change it after the plague hit Bombay. The bacteria that caused the plague was transmitted to the Bombay port by a ship from Hong Kong. The epidemic widely affected Bombay due to Mumbai’s humid climate and unsanitary housings, where most of the population lived. 2000 people died every week, and citizens in Bombay suffered from the plague for almost 20 years.
Bombay City Improvement Trust
In 1898, the government set up the Bombay City Improvement Trust, which started an understanding of urbanism that considers public health. They began to transform old neighborhoods to create public spaces and install necessities for the sewage system, and they created new precincts conforming to the new rules. In sPare, Sameep Padora and his team explored the buildings constructed in the early 1900s in Mumbai. The research group explored the systems used in buildings rather than how buildings looked, and they came across many examples from city-scale to furniture-scale.
One of the projects mentioned by Sameep Padora was Swadeshi Market. Swadeshi Market is a complex with residential at the top and commercial spaces at the bottom. What makes this complex worth researching is that the market streets are perpendicular to the streets and connecting one part of the city to another. The top of the market street is covered with a courtyard that is available for residential units. Disadvantages such as lack of sunlight and ventilation caused by covering the top of the entire market street have been solved by the glass vertical ventilation tunnels opening to the courtyard. On the other hand, the courtyard was a convenient space for people to interact and children to play. Pandora also mentioned that they observed the feeling of being a community that everyone had once heard from the family elders in this project. He added that some people continued living in the building only for the relationships established thanks to the common areas.
Mumbai Architecture Today
Today, Mumbai disregards the knowledge and development it once acquired in building residential buildings. Sameep Padora mentions slum rehabilitation buildings in Mumbai, which the government offers to the poor people living in the slums. Since this project aims to fit the maximum residential units into the site, it causes the houses to be positioned without considering the light and ventilation problems, as was done in the past. Therefore, it is recorded by the doctors that one out of ten people living in these houses has been diagnosed with respiratory tract diseases. Contrary to the common belief that such problems are only seen in state-built homes. Also, affordable housing projects built by private developers care about fitting more apartments in an apartment rather than offering healthy living spaces to their customers. Therefore, whether it be a private developer or a government hand, Mumbai’s architecture is slowly killing people.
Affordable Housing Project in Karjat
Sameep Padora, discontented with the change of current building regulations in Mumbai, which aims to increase profits rather than keep citizens healthy, used all the research he had archived when his design studio was asked to design affordable houses in Karjat by a private developer. They used cross ventilation to provide better air quality since the climate in Mumbai is hot and humid. They created the houses with two sets of windows, one on the outside that will allow the fresh air to come into units and the other looking to the inside of the block, enabling hot air to escape from the lobby staggering the corridors.
Besides, internal windows allow people to communicate with their neighbors because sP+a aimed to bring back the sense of being a community in this project. The research that is the source of the design has shown that people living in small houses tend to spend their time outside. Therefore, sP+a designed areas such as children’s playgrounds and terrace farms as part of the corridor. It shows that, in this design, not only do human health is considered, but also it is aimed to contribute to the social relations of the residents.
Key Takeaways from the Talk
First of all, I would like to congratulate him for his farsightedness in 2018 because history is repeating itself two years after he gave that speech. Today we are trying to survive in a pandemic since February. According to a survey, Mumbai was the first city in India to exceed 10,000 deaths (india.com). Examples such as slum rehabilitation buildings given by Sameep Padora must be one reason that made the number huge. These buildings, which cause health problems under normal circumstances to those living in them, will not provide a healthful environment for them during the quarantine.
The situation that humanity is facing shows the importance of learning from mistakes made in the past. Thanks to today’s advanced technology, the vaccine that will prevent the transmission of the coronavirus was founded, and thus the pandemic is expected to end by next year. If the vaccine had not been found, it would have taken years for Mumbai and the world to get rid of the pandemic under these living conditions. As a result, this pandemic will make the governments realize the vital effect of architecture on human health, and they will change building regulations that will prioritize citizens’ health.
If this article aroused your interest, here is the link for Sameep Padora’s TED talk: www.ted.com/talks/sameep_padora_mumbai_s_architecture_is_killing_us